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Thursday 8 December 2016

Northern date is a timely warm-up for Scots

The Republic of Ireland will host Northern Ireland in June
The Republic of Ireland will host Northern Ireland in June

ONLY 15,000 paying punters turned up the last time that Northern Ireland placed against the Republic in a senior international.

But no one will be allowed in through the gates of the Dublin 4 venue when Martin O'Neill and Michael O'Neill put their teams up against each other in June.

To help the nations prepare for vital Euro 2016 qualifiers later in the month, the FAI and IFA have arranged a 'behind closed doors' game at Lansdowne Road stadium on Thursday June 4th, but the game will not be deemed a proper international and no caps will be awarded.

Due to a length and potentially damaging gap between the close of the club season in England - the regular Championship season finishes next weekend, leaving regular starters like David Forde and James McClean without any competitive action for six weeks before the Euro qualifier with Scotland on June 13th - the two managers were eager to have something to keep their players busy.

Senior friendly internationals are difficult to arrange and costly to stage, so the two O'Neills have put their heads together and arranged a training game - though the bad news for punters and the media is that access will be very strictly controlled, though residents and office workers in the D4 area will start checking their roof and balcony spaces, in the off-chance that they can get a sneak peak.

"With the season ending early for a lot of our players, we see this as a mutually beneficial exercise for both sides," said Martin O'Neill.

"Holding the match behind closed doors will give us the flexibility to make any changes we see fit ahead of the European qualifiers on June 13.

"The championship season ends on May 2, and if players are not involved in play-offs, that could be over a month without any games. It represents an ideal opportunity to build the intensity of our preparations, leading into the England friendly, and before the important qualifier against Scotland."

Previously, Giovanni Trapattoni held a training game against the junior international XI but media were allowed into that match at Malahide, but the FAI have stressed that this time there will be "no public or media access".

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